Sunday, 29 July 2012


With school finally out, it was time for another much needed week away.  This was the 2nd driving tour of the year; this time with the destination being the Normandy region in northern France.  Normandy isn't that far from the UK and the weather can be somewhat similar.  Fortunately, the pesky jet stream moved north where it belongs in the summer and we had some really nice (and even hot) weather.  It's not often we've been rocking the shorts since we've been here.

This was a fairly laid back trip for us.  Some things were planned and others were "concepts" that I left open to explore as we wished.  In turned out well and we had another great week (and another 200 photos below!).

Our primary destination was Bayeux which was the first liberated city after the allied invasion on D-Day (June 6th, 1944).  Though close, it's not necessarily easy to get to as I found out.  I decided to do as the Brits would do and drive across (in our right hand drive car, no less).  Turned out there was no need to worry as I quickly re-acclimated to driving on the right despite the steering wheel being on the wrong side.

I chose a circular route for a few reasons.  Crossing at the Eurotunnel is the quickest way (B to C on map above).  That required about a 3.5 hour drive to get there and a 2-hr wait since we were early.   From there we drove to Rouen for 1 night and then on to Bayeux for 5.  Rather than drive back, we took an overnight ferry from Ouistreham/Caen to Portsmouth (F to G) and made some stops along the way back.


Part of the reason for going via the Eurotunnel is  because I wanted to try it!  To "drive" across the tunnel, one actually takes a train shuttle.  Here we are driving down the ramp to the train (my trusty co-pilot is the photographer).

You actually drive right onto the train and park for the 31 mile trip.  You stay in the car the entire time.  When you are in France, you go through Passport Control and off you go.  Neat experience.  Nicole was disappointed that the tunnel wasn't glass as she was expecting to see out!

Another reason for coming this way was wanting to visit Rouen.  Rouen is a decent size city that still has a medieval feel in the historic city center.  This older cobblestone street is fortunately pedestrianized.   

Rouen has a massive cathedral (also called Notre Dame), which unfortunately is undergoing some repairs (as seemingly most are).

an old clock along the pedestrian street

Rouen is (in)famous for being the place were Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake.  We visited the new, modern Joan of Arc church on our first day and this (also modern) sculpture was inside.

inside the church -- the stained glass was from the previous church which was damaged during WWII (but the glass was not)

This is the monument marking the place where she was executed back in 1431 at the age of 19.

a pleasing view of the old market square near the Joan of Arc church

another massive church -- St. Ouen I believe


On the next day we actually made it inside the cathedral.  Most of my photos inside were uninspiring.  I did like this gallery of statues.   These were lifted from the facade for cleaning.  

another statue of Joan, this time inside the cathedral -- all the French descriptions have the word brulee which I assume means to burn (or some form of that).  I guess this is the imagine that will pop in my head when we order creme brulee now (thanks for that).

this was a nice interior courtyard that happened to be an old plague cemetery (1500s)

there was also a nice market on Sunday as well, though not the best photograph of it here


We took a very leisurely route from Rouen to Bayeux with the intention of stopping at a few nearby abbeys.  The first was the Abbey of St. Georges de Boscherville.

From the info board:  Raoul, High Chamberlain of Normandy, was tutor to William the Bastard, the future Conqueror  - a post which made him one of the most important figures in the Norman court.  Around 1050, Raoul set up within the grounds of his manor at Boscherville a community of canons charged with building here a collegiate church.

The collegiate church was replaced in the 12th century by the magnificent abbey church that we see before us.  A community of Benedictine monks took up residence there in 1114.

 a photo inside the church

a quick photo inside (a service had just finished) -- notice the plain, rounded arches style associated with the Romans (and Normans)

a nice photo outside the church

 side view

Next stop was the ruined Abbey of Jumieges

we passed a small market and some animals that I assume were to be part of an event later that day
 Billy -- future Jay Seppanen facial hair of the month nominee?

I like these ruined buildings for some reason -- quite a glorious day (the sun was a very welcome change from our recent UK weather)

full size checkers on the grounds

interior shot

 side view

picnic time

We drove to another abbey but decided to punt due to the crowds and parking as it was apparently a festival day.  We finally made it to Bayeux and had dinner across from the cathedral.


Bayeux is a nice, small city that was fortunately spared during the WWII liberation.  We spent the first 2 nights in the city and enjoyed walking around the small city center area.

another shot of the cathedral on our morning walk -- I was too cheap to spend 44 euros for breakfast at the hotel so we were hoping to find something on the street -- not much open before 9 am unfortunately!

One of the key sites in Bayeux is the museum holding the 900+ year old Bayeux Tapestry (great wiki link) which depicts the story of the 1066 Battle of Hastings that forever changed the course of history.

Recall, that we saw a re-enactment of the 1066 battle in Battle last October (link) so it was quite nice to see this part of the story as well.

The tapestry (technically an embroidery) is 230 feet long.  You have an audioguide that walks your through the story as you shuffle down the tapestry.

Here Harold makes an oath to William (that he eventually breaks when King Edward dies and takes the crown for himself -- so the story goes).

Duke William rallying the troops during the battle

Harold takes an arrow in the eye and the Normans eventually overtake the English (Saxons)

In addition to the tapestry, they had some models of Norman castles including this one of the Tower of London

Next up, back to the cathedral.

 inside shot

St. Michael -- wings and a sword and a little foreshadowing for things to come

We saved the afternoon for the very well done Caen Memorial Museum (Center for the History for Peace).  

The main section of the museum provided the background from the end of WWI that led to Hitler's rise to power and WWII.  There was a small section on the D-Day invasion and another highlighting the fact that peace is still needed in other areas.  The photo above struck me as how things have changed in 70 years in terms of political correctness.

I didn't take many photos, but here's one of Hitler (obviously).  We spent 3+ hours here and tried to absorb the well done info.  It provided a good background for the D-Day touring to come.


Up early to make the 1.5 hr drive to Mont St. Michel which you see from the distance above.

In closer.  This site has been a pilgrimage since the 8th century.

Massive tide swings here . . . obviously low tide at the moment.

 Family shot before going in and up

The touristy gauntlet on the way up.  Fortunately, this family (i.e. me) knew to come early to avoid the huge crowds.

The abbey church up top.

Statue of St. Authbert who had the vision to build the abbey

hanging out in the Hall of Grand Pillars

St. Michael slaying another one

on the way down

looking back up at the church

many more heading in as we head out

We stopped at a German Military Cemetery near MSM.   I wanted to show the kids that there are a lot of deaths on both sides and none of it is good.  In fact, the "bad guys" were only doing what they were ordered to do by their political leaders.

The cemetery was 2 levels with 30+ rooms each housing numerous vaults.  12,000 soldiers are laid to rest here.

The view of MSM from the cemetery.

We stayed just outside of Bayeux for our last 3 days at the Chateau de Damingy (link) which was our first choice but unavailable for the first 2 days.  The present chateau dates back to the 19th century and is set on an acre plus.

The flower and vegetable garden in the back.  The guard tower dates back to the original chateau (15th century?  or earlier?).

This fat cat was outside our window trying to lull the birds a little closer.

Alex had been nagging me for a crepe and we finally got him one that night for dinner.


Today was the big day reserved for touring (some of) the D-Day beach sites.  I placed it in the middle of the week so we could see the Caen Memorial first while also leaving some extra time if we wanted more than 1 day.

There are many options for tours or one can go at it alone.  I decided to go with a private guide for the day and that worked out well.

We drove about 45 minutes toward the western most flank of the D-Day invasion to Ste. Mere Eglise.  The 700 year old church is shown above.  The 82nd and 101st Airborne paratroopers landed here early in the morning of June 6th.  They had some early misfortune as a house had caught on fire which brought out the townspeople and German soldiers in the middle of the night to spoil the surprise and confuse the paratroopers.

One paratrooper, John Steele, got caught on the church steeple and  is he is commemorated today by the dummy paratrooper.

Despite the early issues, the town, an important strategic location, was taken the first day.

Stained glass in the church put in for the 25th anniversary.   "They have come back" is written at the bottom.  Obviously the town (and region/country) is very thankful for their liberation.

The nearby Airborne Museum, also in Ste. Mere Eglise.

in front of a C-47 and some "paratroopers"

look at all the stuff they had to jump (and land) with

 very thankful, very proud

I did not realize that gliders were used to get some men and equipment on the ground.  They were 1-time uses.  If they landing didn't destroy them, they were purposely destroyed (after shooing off the cows I imagine).

Next stop was Pointe du Hoc where elite Rangers scaled the cliffs to disarm a German gun battery (which was defended but unfortunately the big guns had been moved).  These guns could reach both Utah and Omaha beaches so it was a very strategic site.

Our guide mentioned that this area was private farmland and was not reconstructed after the war.  As a result, bombing craters abound.  Alex is at the bottom of one above.  This was one of our favorite sites.

Climbing out a machine gun defense post (with our guide Lucy).

The reason for moving the guns was to construct newer, more protected gun bunkers like above.

The bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc and a peak at the English Channel in the distance.

monument to the brave Rangers

a view of the nearby cliffs (but not the ones scaled)

 up the beach on the other side

looking back at Pointe du Hoc and an idea of the cliffs that were scaled

 break for lunch with a restaurant/hotel with a ping pong table (a nice break)

Next up:  Omaha Beach, the site of many casualties.  The bombing runs were unsuccessful leaving the infantry men exposed.  A relatively new/modern memorial is shown above.

Note:  there were 5 beach landing operations that occurred more or less simultaneously.  Americans landed at Utah and Omaha which is where we focused our tour.  Juno, Gold and Sword were the others. 

family shot at Omaha Beach

earlier memorial at Omaha Beach

Next stop was the very impressive and somber American Military Cemetery near Omaha Beach.  The statue above represents the spirit of American Youth.

flag at half mast due to the shooting in Colorado (this is technically American  "soil" like an embassy would be)

 grave of unknown soldier

9387 buried here.  All Americans killed in action (WWII) but not necessarily in Normandy.  Families could chose whether to repatriate the bodies or have them buried in Europe.  In some cases brothers, friends, squadrons, etc. were reunited even if they died elsewhere during the war

Random grave to shown the detail on the marble cross

As I said, very impressive and somber.

one more

an important message

looking down at Omaha Beach

I've mentioned in previous posts that WWII was quite different in the UK with bombing raids or in Europe with occupation compared to the US.  However, it says a lot to go to war in a foreign land to fight for what is right.  The world is a better place because of it.  Let's remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.

There is also a list of names that were missing in action.  The bronze dot shows they were eventually found (not many as you can see).

It is a vast wall.  Over 1500 names according to my guidebook.

 solemn display in the visitor's center

I've always felt my WWII history was a little lacking.  It never seemed like we covered it in school (too recent for "history") so visiting these sites and learning more about it was important to me and was pretty much the primary reason for the trip.  I'm glad we came and I hope that a little of that knowledge rubs off on the kids some day . . .


Thursday was set aside for the French countryside to search out cheese, cider and small villages.

First stop was the small village of Cambremer which had a church will really loud bells!

The Normandy region is not suited for grapes so no wine is produced here.  However, it is ideal for apples and diary so cider and cheese are prevalent.  We stopped at the Pierre Huet distillery outside of Cambremer.

There we sampled apple juice, apple cider, pommeau and calvados (apple brandy).  Pommeau is unique to the region and is a 2:1 mixture of cider and calvados that is aged in the blended configuration.  It's 18% alcohol and consumed chilled as an aperitif.  We purchased some juice, cider and pommeau and left the calvados behind.

An interesting house on the property.  We missed the beginning of the tour or else I might know what it is!

Next, we headed to the village of Crevecoeur-en-auge to the Chateau de Crevecoeur, a well preserved (or restored) small lord's castle from the middle ages.

another family shot -- we were hugging the shade as it was 90F or so.  We certainly aren't used to that!

Half timbered building in the outer courtyard.  Dovecote (for raising pigeons) on the left and barn on the right.  I assumed the half-timbered was because the foundation was brick and the upper part was wood (most that I've seen in towns have been on the second floor it seems), but I now realize that the is half timbered because it is wood/mud/wood etc.  Duh.

What, math?  In a castle?  The Schlumberger estate purchased the grounds.  In addition to restoring it they also set up various exhibits to show how great they are (link).  I must say it was a little odd to have that combination and privatized view considering all the English Heritage and National Trust sites we've grown accustomed to.

Nicole near the same buildings from the other side.

 old oven

 bridge and moat

 re-created animal pens (from 2005 -- again we've grown accustomed to slightly older items)

plants for women -- they need their own help you know

 the actual castle in the inner courtyard

 protective wall between inner/outer

interesting horse pitcher inside

Next stop Beuvron-en-Auge, a small picturesque village along the cider trail.

kids happily playing along

nice little shops -- we picked up a print and poked around a bit.  We were too late for lunch (after 2 pm) so we basically ate in a sit down convenience store.

We decided we didn't need to try all the cider stops so we ventured a little further to find some cheese (we saw an ad for this at lunch -- talk about spontaneous).  We drove to Livarot to visit the Graindorge facility.

They had a nice self-guided tour set up with various videos to teach you about their wonderful Normand cows.  Kuk wanted a photo of one but it was never convenient.  Click here instead.

Cheese, cheese, cheese.  Alex said it would probably take a million rats to eat all of that.

One of their cheeses, nicknames The Colonel, is hand-bound by reeds (makes it look like a Big Mac).

One of the absolute highlights of the trip was the opportunity to share a "table d' hôtes" with our host and other guests.  The owner of the B&B, Vincent, has also been trained as a chef.  On most nights he offers the option of dining with his wife and 2 year old son and the other guests.  We did this 2 nights and had different guests each nights.  Coincidentally it was an American family and an Italian family each night.

The meal was gourmet, multi-course and multi-drink.  Outstanding food and the conversation was fantastic.  So, so glad we were able to do this.  Highly recommended!


Our last full day in France.  We started by visited Arromanches, a D-Day site that we wanted to see but didn't have the time for on Wednesday.   This is where the Allies built an artificial port and harbor within 12 days of D-Day to help with supply lines (the existing ports were too well defended).

Looking out at the remaining bits of the harbor.

Family shot.  Low tide with some remaining bits of the pontoon road supports.

diorama inside the museum -- I was completely amazed by this concept and execution.  This was planned and built for ~2 years before D-Day and then tugged across the channel as part of the invasion. 

another diorama from the German point of view

poor photo by me of an older photo showing what it looked like

I can't imagine what it would have been like to storm the beaches -- imagine the fear and adrenaline

 another beach shot at Arromanches

close up

and one more

Back in the car to visit a few more sites, though these were a little further from Bayeux.  To get there, we passed over the long, cable Normandy Bridge near Le Harve & Honfleur.

The destination was Etratat, almost 2 hours away (a little crazy, but we'd heard good things).  There's a small town and a beach nestled between two impressive cliffs.  Cliff on the left.

and the right . . . we decided to climb this one to look at the other one

but first lunch . . . and more crepes (desert for lunch, no wonder the kids like it) -- they still say mine are better though :-)

it was a short, but vertical walk to the top -- great view

 more cliffs further along to the right (north?)

  the small church at the top

 nice one (not sure about Alex's smile on this one though)

it's been awhile since I had a animal photo so seagull on a ledge it is

side view of church

 had to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, throw the rocks  (no sand on this beach)

We headed back towards Caen and stopped in Honfleur, an old port town where the Seine River meets the English Channel.   Skinny houses line the harbor and restaurants abound. 

an old building in the harbor (and some of the most disgusting public toilets)

Honfleur is an artistic hot spot these days.  We liked this sculpture even is we don't know what it is telling us.  Why does that man have a hole in his body?  Because he can?

We ticked off a few sites while walking around the city.  Here's St. Leonard's church.

 another war memorial

 a building near Ste Catherine's church

 inside Ste Catherine's church -- it had a unique double-nave

We tried for an early (before 7) dinner and all that was open were the touristy places along the harbor.  We chose one and we chose incorrectly.  Horrible service and horrible food.  We actually settled up and left before the last course because I was fed up.  Honfleur was expensive too.  Sodas were about $7 -- the kids fortunately agreed that water was okay this time.  Yuck.  Perhaps we didn't give it a fair shake, but we all preferred Etratat over Honfleur (by a mile).

To get back across the Channel, I decided to again try something new.  We took an overnight ferry from Ouistreham to Portsmouth.  We arrived a little early, had a drink and then boarded the ferry by driving our car onto the ship and finding our cozy little cabin.

I thought the kids might like it, and they did.  Here's Alex peering over his bunk down at me.

and Nicole


We pushed out at 11 and arrived in Portsmouth at 6:30 a.m UK time (7:30 French time).  We slept well.  They woke us up an hour before arrival and we had a chance for me to shower and the others to get changed.  It worked out really well.

Enjoyed rolling into Portsmouth which is a naval port among other things.  It took about 15 minutes to get through Passport control and off we went.  Portsmouth would have been a good place to visit but nothing is open at 6:45!

So, we drove a little down the road to Winchester.  Winchester was the capital of England way, way back and is home to a massive cathedral.   The cathedral has the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in England.

As with Derby and I imagine other cities, there is a jumbotron/tv setup for the Olympic activities.  We chatted with a nice couple who was setting up for a prime location for the upcoming cycling competition.

The outside of the cathedral isn't much to look at, but I did enjoy wandering around inside.  We also took the free guided tour for some additional background.

Another claim to fame is that Jane Austen is buried here.  She grew up in the country and then wrote/finished most of her novels in Bath.  She got sick at a relatively early age and went to Winchester for the medical opportunities but eventually died there.  [our stuffy guide didn't mention any of this]

an old (11th-12th century) painting (fresco?)

stone carvings inside the church -- I think it was also used as support

flooded crypts -- not sure how regular an occurrence this is or if it is due to the recent heavy rains

Bishop Gardiner who married Prince Philip of Spain and Queen Mary Tudor (see below).  It was thought that having a "chantry" would speed up the post life communication with God and therefore speed up the purgatory step.  [So of course, rich people could build one for themselves.  Biting tongue . . .]

Disappointed that this photo didn't turn out better, but I wanted to share this story.  In the early 1900s it was determined that the foundation was sagging.  Restoration work actually determined that the water table had been struck (met?) and that the cathedral was in damage of completely collapsing.  Some waterlogged foundations on the south and east walls were reinforced by a diver, William Walker, packing the foundations with more than 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks. Walker worked six hours a day from 1906 to 1912 in total darkness at depths up to 6 metres (20 ft), and is credited with saving the cathedral from total collapse.  Cool, huh?

Another fuzzy photo, but neat story.  The stained glass was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell during/after the Civil War.  The church members gathered all the bits and saved them.  When the Crown was restored, they put it back together in this rather abstract mosaic.

 partial outside view -- too large for much more

font from 11th-12th century (for baptisms)

an earlier Roman design inside the cathedral

down the hall -- you can sort of see the outer walls leaning and the tie rods holding tight.  They check the structure for movement regularly.

Another interesting connection -- Isaac Walton is also buried here.  He is an English author most famous for writing the Compleat Angler (still in print), a fishing guide of sorts with some portions based in Dovedale (Derbyshire).

Next stop:  Stratford-upon-Avon. 

. . . and the birthplace, and in the photo above, the burial place of one William Shakespeare (and they don't let you forget it)

I did like the curse that he put near his grave:  Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,  to dig the dust enclosed here, bless by the man that spare these stones, and curse be he that moves my bones.

It was somewhat common practice for crypts to get full and the bones moved and burned (bonefire/bonfire origin according to the docent/guide) and Bill didn't want any of that for his bones.

inside the Holy Trinity church where Shakespeare is buried

 outside shot of church

 random poem in the park -- several where hanging on a tree -- not exactly Shakespeare-esque

the relatively new Royal Shakespeare Company theatre

We off course had to visit the birthplace too.   Interesting painting in the waiting area.

outside (and behind) the birthplace

and the front -- it was a neat bit of history, though a little pricey with only seeing the one museum (others were included but we ran out of time)

More food:

Not quite as many food shots this time -- I didn't take any of the meals in chateau as it didn't seem appropriate.

Our first night in France?  Why, sushi of course.  We knew we'd get plenty of French food later and we (okay mainly Kuk) have been craving it so we had some in Rouen.  It was quite good, actually.

First night in Bayeux at the Petit Normand.  I was fairly adventurous this trip and started with a plate of oysters.  Also, very good.

Kuk had a nice stuffed smoke salmon starter.

 duck (canard) main for me -- okay

 steak for Kuk (why?  that's not their thing) -- she really had to wrestle with it

Next night at La Fringale -- escargot for me (and the kids each tried one).  The only time Nicole likes snails is on the end of a fork.  :-)

trout with cream sauce (a regional specialty)

More casual fare on the next night in Bayeux.  Alex got his crepe and I tried an interesting one with chopped steak, egg, potatoes and cheese.  The savory (as opposed to sweet) dinner crepes are made with a darker (I assume buckwheat) flour.  Not bad.

All and all a good trip.  It was different than most in that it was fairly relaxed with only a few must sees (Mont St Michel, D-Day tour, Bayeux tapestry, etc.) and plenty of time to explore.  I wouldn't want every vacation that way but we enjoyed this one.  As always, it's good to experience new things and learn a little along the way.

Have a good week everyone.


  1. Great looking trip Steve. Me and Tara have a very similar trip planned for the August bank holiday. We're taking the same route, but reverse order. Don't worry, we're not copying you... although it kinda seems like it. I hope our weather is as good as yours

  2. You should have stopped to see us in Portsmouth. That was our central point and stayed there thurs thru sat nights... Looks like youq guys had another fantastic trip. Lori S

  3. Ok....maybe it was Plymouth....guess I need a few nights in my own bed... LS

  4. Impressive trip. I am especially impressed that you can remember the details of what you saw, and connect them to the photos. I end up taking lots of photos, and then having trouble remembering what each is. You don't cheat by taking notes do you?

  5. @Doug -- sounds good. Let me know if you have any questions. Should be a fun trip.

    @Lori -- slight difference there! We were advised to not drive a single mile to the west to avoid the Cornwall traffic on Saturday morning.

    @Ray -- thanks. No notes. One key for me is to go through them immediately upon return. Having them chronologically helps and I do sometimes consult guidebooks and the internet after the fact to jog my memory or get more facts.

  6. Excellent post Steve. I love all the war sights over here altho we won't make it over to the beaches. Loved the cliff and town building shots. Also liked the cows guarding the glider photo. Interesting on MSM since we saw a different MSM on our trip, very similar set up tho. Looks like Alex was smiling in quite a few shots, did you bribe him? Thanks for the facial hair idea.